October 21, 2007

Why everybody should be rooting for the Indians...

Why should everybody (well, everybody outside of Boston) be rooting for the Indians tonight? The short answer is this: They built their team the right way, amassing stars with a low payroll. The Indians give every low-payroll team hope that they can compete, with smart moves made in the front office.

Let's look at the 2001 Indians. Jim Thome had a monster year - he finished just 7th in the MVP voting, but posted a .416 OBP, .624 SLG, and a 170 OPS+, finishing third, second, and second in those respective categories (Giambi led all three with an outstanding year, though Ichiro took the MVP). Robbie Alomar at age 33 had one of the best years ever by a second baseman, putting up a .336/.415/.541 line with a 150 OPS+ and winning the Gold Glove for the 10th time. Juan Gonzalez, and Marty Cordova had career years in the outfield, and DH Ellis Burks slugged .542 at the age of 36. The pitching staff, while not the team's strength, was servicable, as ace Bartolo Colon and rookie C.C. Sabathia each struck out almost a batter per inning while posting above-average ERAs. Their bullpen was very strong, as Bob Wickman, Ricardo Rincon, Paul Shuey, and Danys Baez all had ERAs under three. The 2001 Indians won the division with a 91-71 record, and took the 116-win Seattle Mariners to five games in the ALDS before finally losing.

But 2001 is more notable for another reason. After the 2001 season, GM John Hart (who had built the Indians mini-dynasty that won six of the last seven AL Central titles) left the team and took over as general manager of the Rangers. Assistant GM Mark Shapiro was promoted to take his place. Shapiro (who, incidentally, is the brother-in-law of Eric Mangini) went on to build the Indians team that is one game away from the World Series today.

The 2001 Indians were a very good team filled with a lot of household names, but they were an old team as well. Of their nine starting position players, only catcher Einar Diaz (28) was under 30 years old. Realizing that the team he had would not remain competitive for long and that the Indians lacked the cash to reload when their older players stopped performing as well as they had, Shapiro started making moves while his players' value was still high.

Shapiro took over as GM on November 1st. Here are some of the most notable transactions since then:

Lets Juan Gonzalez, Marty Cordova walk - Shapiro could have easily re-signed his two most productive outfielders from 2001 and made another run at contention the next year, but he didn't. Cordova signed a 3 yr/$9 mill contract with the Orioles; he missed 31 games in 2002 while slugging just .434, played only 9 games in 2003 and was out of baseball the next year. Gonzalez signed a 2 yr/$21 mill contract with the Rangers (actually not that bad a deal at the time, given the market and Gonzalez's past six seasons), and played a total of 152 games over those years.

Trades Robbie Alomar, Mike Bacsik, and Danny Peoples to the Mets for Matt Lawton, Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Earl Snyder, and Billy Traber - Obviously, this deal doesn't look great on paper. But Lawton was regarded as a pretty good player at the time, and more importantly, Alomar was 34 years old and owed $16 mill over the next two seasons. In 2002, Alomar followed up his outstanding 2001 campagin with a .266/.331/.376 line; the next year, he did even worse (.258/.333/.349). In the middle of the 2003 season, Alomar was traded to the White Sox for a peanut vendor (peanuts not included).

Signs Rafael Perez as undrafted free agent - The Indians didn't really do a whole lot to build this team through the draft (other than Sabathia, back in 1998), but a lot of their signings of undrafted worked out extremely well. Perez threw 60.7 innings for this year's team in his first full season in the majors, with a 1.78 ERA and a .92 WHIP as Cleveland's top lefty reliever in a much-improved bullpen.

Trades Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to the Expos for Lee Stevens, Brandon Philips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore - Arguably Shapiro's best move. Colon owned a 2.55 ERA at this point in the season in 2002 in his best year as a starter, but was going to get much more expensive after the season due to arbitration (he ended up getting more than $8 million the next year) and was due for free agency after 2003, when he signed a huge contract with the Angels. Colon was solid for the rest of the year, with a 3.31 ERA in his stint with Les Expos, and posted a 3.87 ERA the following year with the White Sox, although he's had much less success with the Angels. But more important for the Indians was the package they received in return. Phillips has turned into a very good player, unfortunately not for the Indians; the second baseman hit 30 homers and stole 32 bags this year for the Reds (he was traded across the state for reliever Jeff Stevens, still in the minors). Lee's 6.29 ERA sent him to the minors this season, but he threw over 200 innings in 2005 and 06 with a 3.79 and 4.40 ERA, respectively. He's still a 28-year-old lefthander, so there's still time for him to figure things out. And Sizemore...if you don't know about him by now, you obviously don't follow baseball. Sizemore's averaged a .285/.371/.493 line over the past three years, he's a pretty good centerfielder...and the best part is that he's only 24 years old. If he isn't already, he should be one of the 10 best players in baseball very soon.

Trades Chuck Finley to the Cardinals for Coco Crisp and Luis Garcia - Finley was a very respected pitcher who had been a very solid starter in the AL for years, but by this point, he was 39 years old and had already thrown more than 3000 innings. Finley posted a 3.80 ERA for the rest of the year to help lead the Redbirds to the ALCS, but retired at the end of the year. Crisp, meanwhile, became a good centerfielder for the Indians; in 2005, he hit .300/.345/.465 at the age of 25. He was traded to the Red Sox for a package featuring highly touted prospect Andy Marte (who unfortunately looks like a bust), but has struggled some since then.
Trades Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese to the Rangers for Travis Hafner and Aaron Myetter - Diaz was coming off a terrible year (.206/.258/.284, 47 OPS+), but Shaprio still managed to get something for him from the Rangers. Diaz "rebounded" somewhat (61 OPS+) the next year with the Rangers, but not enough to justify this trade. Obviously, the star in this deal is Hafner. Pronk was "down" to the tune of a 118 OPS+ this year, but was amazing over the last three years; he posted an OPS+ above 160 each year, including an outstanding .308/.439/.659 campaign last year, when was the best hitter in the AL.

Signs Casey Blake as a cheap free agent - Blake was a journeyman backup third basemen, having played in only 49 games before the signing. But at the age of 29, he finally got regular playing time with the Indians, and has evolved into a capable third baseman. He hasn't been outstanding, but his OPS+ as an Indian has been 105. His .270/.339/.437 line this year won't get him any MVP votes, but average players are hard to find in today's game and are a necessary part of a great team.

Signs Rafael Betancourt as a minor-league free agent - Betancourt had been a reliever in the Red Sox system until 2001, when the Sox finally got rid of him. The Indians signed him before the 2003 season, and he was a solid reliever until this year, when he was spectacular. Betancourt pitched 80 innings with a 1.47 ERA and a .756 WHIP, another key part of the Indians' outstanding bullpen.

Trades Eduardo Perez to the Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera - Cabrera's certainly not a star at second base (even though he should be playing SS), and he's been no more than an average hitter this season. But he's only 21, so although I don't believe he's projected to be a superstar, there's still room for improvement. Perez was a 36-year-old journeyman first baseman who put together 100 good at-bats with the Tribe in 06; after the trade, he hit .195/.304/.241, and could not find a team to play with this year.

Before Shapiro took over, the Indians also signed Victor Martinez, Fransisco Carmona, and Jhonny Peralta as undrafted FAs, and also acquired Jake Westbrook for then-34-year-old David Justice.

The Indians are a perfect model for how a mid-market team needs to compete. The Tribe's payroll is just $61 million, 23rd out of 30 teams in baseball, but they are one game away from the World Series and look as good as anybody for the next three or four years. They had a great team in the late 90's, traded away their stars before they lost value, and used a tremendous scouting department to find bargains in trades and in minor league free agents. The Indians' front office - including Shapiro - is possibly the most underrated in the game, and is the reason they're where they are today.

August 23, 2007

Barry Bonds

Obviously, I'm pretty much done with this blog for this year...maybe I'll revitalize it next summer, maybe not. Fall is starting, and I'm going to be blogging about high school sports on the Times Union website again this year. One more thing: I was invited to publish a short article on Barry Bonds on PBS Newshour last week. Here's the link.

July 17, 2007

Clearing the Bases: Best team in baseball?

Clearing the Bases: going through some of the most notable links from the past week...

Buster Olney had this interesting nugget of information in a recent blog:
By the way, I e-mailed this question to a number of talent evaluators, general managers, scouts, other executives and players: Who is the best team in baseball? Got back 20 responses within a 12-hour period.
Here's the breakdown:
Detroit Tigers -- 11
Boston Red Sox -- 6
Los Angeles Angels -- 3
That's pretty interesting. No mention of the Indians? I think they're right up there with the Tigers and Red Sox, and possibly a bit ahead of the Angels. I'm not surprised that there are no NL teams on the list, though...

A message to the media: Don't steal from blogs, especially when the stories are made-up...

A proposal to
fix the HR Derby that I'm sure we'll all support…

American League pitchers, take note: Tony Pena
doesn't want your charity (via Rob Neyer's blog)

Deadspin, with
this great take on the All-Star game fiasco: "As tends to be the case with La Russa anymore, he's so busy thinking about how he's three steps ahead of everyone else that he walks smack dab into a pole."

Baseball Prospectus'
All-Star Game recap

THT with an analytical (you know, actually involving research) look at
the Buehrle signing

Braves reliever Wilfredo Ledezma is stuck in Venezuala, thanks to an
unfortunate laundry accident

An in-depth look at the two-horse
NL Central race.

Random Video of the Week: I really don't think these kids are eight years old, but still, this football highlight video is impressive. By the way, that #20 sure can block…

July 16, 2007

Billy Wagner - losing his stuff?

Well, the Phillies finally lost number 10,000 last night, and only this man has seen every single one. But I really don't care how many games the Phils have lost; I'm more curious right now about former Phillies closer Billy Wagner. One of the things I noted in my all-star game blog was that Wagner's fastball was topping out at 95 mph, including the one that Victor Martinez took deep for the eventual game-winning run. This seemed strange to me; Wagner has always had the reputation of being a guy who can hit 99-100 consistently on the radar gun.

So, I went through Wagner's recent outings to see if this was anything strange...and it turns out, it wasn't. Wagner's thrown three times since the All-Star break, and he's been effective in all three games. In his most recent outing, he was at 95 with pretty much every pitch (although he hit 97 on the last one), and in the two outings before that he was in the 94-97 range as well. I went back before the All-Star break to his 7/5 outing, but again, more of the same - his fastball was 96-97, hitting 98 twice, but this game was on the road in Houston, so it could just be that the radar gun there reads differently.

Is Wagner getting less effective as the season goes on, or does he simply not throw as hard as he used to? I went back to a couple of his April outings at Shea, but again, he was in the 94-95 range most of the time (though he hit 99 once, which seems to probably be a misread). Finally, I looked through some of his games in 2006 - the radar guns on the MLB.TV feed rarely actually worked, making the experience rather frusturating, but he was around 96-97 last year also (on the road, because the home games didn't show the speed).

What does this mean? It just means that Wagner doesn't throw as hard as he used to. Wagner still carries the reputation of being able to hit triple digits (in a game at Arizona last year, one of the announcers introduced him as "the hardest-throwing lefty in the game"), but that just isn't justified any more. Wagner was clocked at as high as
101 mph in 2003, but has lost a little bit off his heat since then. This actually isn't out of the ordinary; I was surprised to learn that he is 35 years old, so his pure stuff should be starting to decline around now.

Now, does this mean Wagner isn't going to be as effective anymore? Not really. Obviously, an extra five mph on his fastball would help, but he's still a fine pitcher without it. Wagner's given up just seven earned runs this year in 41 innings, for a solid 1.52 ERA (though he's given up four homers already, which would seem to suggest that his ERA is likely to increase a bit soon), and he's posted a great 0.87 WHIP thus far. Even more encouraging is the fact that his strikeout rate has remained extremely high - 11.3 K/9 this year. The only thing that's changed is that he's now relying more on location and changing speeds to get hitters out, instead of pure velocity. Wagner's location has been great in his last couple outings; yesterday, he was coming across the zone and low very consistently (the low and outside corner to a lefty). His slider has also become a devastating pitch; he throws it 85 mph with great movement, and he's shown tremendous command with it; he's thrown it eight times in his three most recent outings, and only once was it called a ball. Wagner also has a curve, but doesn't throw it very much; that's not really a problem, though, as a reliever doesn't usually need more than two pitches to be effective.

July 13, 2007

MLB Midseason, Part III - Second Half Preview

Tony La Russa "apologized" for his All-Star game blunder, but it still didn't make any sense. What he said was that he should have hit Pujols for Rowand "because it's an exhibition, and that's what the fans wanted to see" (paraphrasing). But the implication there is that, if it had been a regular-seasn game, he would have done exactly what he did, which was leave the best hitter in baseball on the bench while a career league-average hitter makes the third out with the bases loaded. There were four times that inning when Pujols should have batted, in my opinion; first, he should have hit for the pitcher instead of Dimitri Young; second, he probably should have batted for Derrek Lee (this one is debatable, though, because Lee is almost as good as Pujols and this would have limited the NL's flexibility); third, he should have hit for Orlando Hudson; and finally, he absolutely had to hit for Rowand. I think Deadspin had the best take on the game: "As tends to be the case with La Russa anymore, he's so busy thinking about how he's three steps ahead of everyone else that he walks smack dab into a pole."

One more note from the All-Star game - I still haven't gotten an answer as to what was up with Billy Wagner. Wagner's fastball usually touches triple digits, enabling him to post a ridiculous 11.95 K/9 for his career. But on Tuesday, his fastball was at just 95, including the one that V-Mart took deep for the eventual game-winning homer. When I get a chance, I'll look through his recent outings and see if this is a problem for Wagner or if he just wasn't using his best stuff.

All that said, let's preview the division and wild card races for the second half of the year:

AL East: Look, the Red Sox have this won, so there's no use wasting any more time on that. They're 20 games above .500, and their run differential backs it up, so there's no reason to expect their performance to change. Plus, they've had a couple people performing below expectations (I'm looking at you, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo), so it's not like all their players are having career years. There's just no way the Sox lose the division, unless an asteroid levels the team jet sometime in August. Toronto, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay are all below .500, and they all suck; no need to waste more words there. The Yankees are the really interesting case. I'm anything but a Yankee fan, but the Yankees are far from done, despite what many people would like you to believe. I don't really care about their history; when I look at that team, I see a team that's been really, really unlucky. Their record is just .500, but their run differential is that of a 50-36 team. Plus, they've suffered tons of injuries to their pitching staff and their outfield. I know the popular thing to do right now is to pile on the Yankees, but there's no reason they can't play at least .600 ball from here on out. That would put them at 90 wins, which still probably isn't enough. But give them a little luck, and they could definitely get to 93-95. The AL's really tough this year, with a lot of really good teams, and it's very possible that 95 wins is good enough for the WIld Card. And, if that isn't enough, the Yankees' first 28 games out of the break are all against teams currently below .500. Don't believe my random speculation? CoolStandings.com gives them a 17% chance of making the playoffs, and Baseball Prospectus puts the odds at 23%. Sure, those odds aren't great, but they're much better than most people would lead you to believe.

AL Central: Best division in baseball? Well, the bottom two teams are very bad (Chicago and KC), but Minnesota is a good team, and Cleveland and Detroit are two of the top three teams in baseball (see below). Ultimately, I don't think the Twins have a shot - they're already seven games back, and they just aren't good enough to overcome that deficit. Starting Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz instead of their more talented youngsters certainly hurt, but this team wasn't going to make the playoffs this year anyways. Morneau, Mauer, Hunter, and Cuddyer give them a solid middle of the lineup, but the rest of their position players aren't good at all. So this one is a two-horse race between the Indians and Tigers. The loser should still get the wild-card, but they will have to hold off the Yankees and possibly the Mariners, if they keep their pace up. I would expect both teams to make the playoffs. Detroit's run differential is much better (their 514 runs scored are easily the best in baseball, despite playing in a big park; the Indians are second, with 471, and the Yankees are in third with 463), but I'm really not sure their offense can keep this up - Magglio Ordonez is playing way over his head, Curtis Granderson hasn't proven he can keep this up for a full year and his high strikeout rate combined with his low walk rate is troubling, and a lot of their other players are aging veterans who may not be able to keep up their performance for a full season. Their pitching should contnue to be strong and maybe even better as Kenny Rogers returns, although I'm still not sold on Verlander staying healthy and strong for a full season, and I don't know that rookie Andrew Miller can succeed his second time through the majors. For some reason, I've really taken a liking to the Indians over the last couple years, so I find myself being a little biased here, but I'm taking the Tribe to win the division. This team is filled with offensive stars; Hafner has been playing below his potential, but is still getting on base 40% of the time, rady Sizemore and Victor Martinez are great, and the rest of the lineup is filled with solid hitters. C.C. Sabathia is one of the ten best pitchers in the game, Fausto Carmona has been a pleasant surprise, and the uncharitable Paul Byrd has been effective (six total walks this year). I'd be lying if I said I was confident in their bullpen, but the Tigers' pen has some problems, too. I do think the loser wins the Wild Card, though again I'm not counting the Yankees out.

AL West: This is the Angels all the way. Seattle's only two games back, so you certainly can't count them out, though they've been very lucky this year. They've barely scored more runs than they've allowed, and they've hit extremely well in the clutch (not typically a repeatable ability) also. You can make a good case that the Mariners will be in it to the end, but I'm not buying it. Oakland certainly has the potential to improve, but they're 9.5 games back, and the Angels aren't going anywhere. The Angels' pitching is solid, their lineup is solid, and their bullpen is the best in the game...it's hard to pinpoint any weaknesses here. I'm not sure I trust their bats enough to win three playoff series, but they're certainly among the elite teams in the game.

NL East: Unfortunately, the Mets haven't played as well as we thought they would before the season. Fortunately (for them), neither have the Braves or Phillies. The standings right now are oddly symmetrical; the Mets are 10 games above .500, the Braves are 5 games above .500, the Phillies are right at .500, the Marlins are five games below .500, but the Nationals ruin the trend by being 16 games below .500. I don't know...I still think the Mets win the division, but nothing would surprise me much. The Phillies are still only five games back despite the fact that their pitchers not named Cole Hamels have been terrible, but even though I would expect their pitching to get better, Jimmy Rollins and Aaron Rowand are playing significantly above their pre-2007 levels. I don't really know what to make of the Braves...if Andrew Jones and Brian McCann can turn things around, they'll certainly stay in contention, but I'm just not sure they have enough to contend (John Smoltz and Tim Hudson have had minor injury problems this year, too). The Braves will be right in the mix with the NL West teams for the wild-card, but I think they'll end up a couple games short.

NL Central: The Cardinals are done. Is everybody with me here? Because I've heard a couple people saying they're in contention, and they're not. They're 7.5 games back, Milwaukee isn't going to collapse, and they just don't have any great players other than Pujols, Carpenter (injured), and Chris Duncan (who mashes righties, but can't hit lefties). The Cubs and Brewers are the only playoff contenders in this division, and although the Cubs aren't bad, I fully expect the Brewers to take this division fairly easily. Their lineup's good, but their pitching's even better - Jeff Suppan has the highest ERA of anybody who's started a game, at 5.00. (By the way, can we stop calling the Brewers a "surprise"? Anyone who had a brainin their head knew the Brewers or maybe the Cubs were going to win the division at the start of the season). The Cubs' pitching has been incredibly surprising - Marquis, Lilly, Hill, and Zambrano all have ERAs in the threes - but I don't think they'll keep it up. The Astros have a nice nucleus (Oswalt, Pence, Lee, Berkman, Lidge) but don't have anything around it. The Pirates have to be pleased with the starting pitching they've gotten from Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, but that's not a good team. The Reds are going to end up wasting Ken Griffey's last years and Adam Dunn's prime years, as they're not a good team now and they've got nothing in the farm system besides Jay Bruce.

NL West: The toughest of the six divisions. The Padres have to be the favorite, seeing as they've given up just 298 runs, more than fifty fewer than anybody else in baseball (a somewhat deceiving figure, as they play their home games in spacious PETCO Park, but their pitching is great nonetheless), and their lineup is solid if not spectacular. The Dodgers are just a game back, and they're finally starting to give playing time to their youngsters, such as Matt Kemp and James Loney, something they should have done in April. The Diamondbacks have possibly even more young talent, although most of them haven't played particularly well thus far; they're still in the hunt at 3.5 games back, though. And you can't yet count out the Rockies, 5.5 games back. I'm taking the Padres to win the division and the D-Backs to win the Wild Card, but nothing would really surprise me in the NL.

Power Rankings (sort of):

There's really no reason to do power rankings 1-30, because they would have no purpose. But I'll give you my view of the teams in playoff contention in groups, because there's not much separating each team within each group.

Group 1: Boston, Detroit, Cleveland

These are the three best teams in baseball, in my mind. All three teams have great hitting and great pitching. If I had to order them, I'd probably go Boston-Cleveland-Detroit, but it's really close. No major flaws on any of the teams, though Detroit and Cleveland could use a little bullpen help.

Group 2: Anaheim

Or whatever they want to be called, anyways. I just don't think they're quite at the level of the first three teams; their bullpen is excellent, but their pitching is somewhat inconsistent and I'm not 100% sold on their offense.

Group 3: New York Mets, Milwaukee, San Diego, New York Yankees

Hello, NL! No, I didn't forget about you...you're just not as good as the AL is, at least at the top. I think all three of the NL teams are pretty much even...I'll probably go SD-Mil-NY, but there's not a meaningful difference between the three teams. And go ahead and ridicule me for putting the Yankees here if you want...but are you telling me you'd really take one of the lower teams in a series over the Yankees? If you do, you're crazy.

Group 4: Minnesota, Atlanta, Arizona, Los Angeles

The Twins don't have a chance at contending in the loaded AL, but they'd be a good team in the NL. Atlanta, Arizona, and LA will be fighting for the wild card, and any of them could win it. Chicago probably could belong in this group as well; I'm just not sold at all on their pitching, and they're not a good defensive club.

July 10, 2007

Live Blog: All-Star Game

7:59: Live from San Francisco My Living Room, it's the 2007 All-Star Game on Fox!

Well, I told you righties had an advantage in the Derby last night...for some reason, lots of people thought lefties would do better. Still, that was pretty boring...the HR Derby has entered the zone of the Dunk Contest where it just really isn't interesting anymore. Some people have suggested making it a "skills competition", including stuff like running, throwing, etc.; I think that would generate interest for a couple years, but then slip back into oblivion. I'm not sure if there's any real way to "fix" the Derby; people just aren't as interested in things like that anymore. Fortunately, the game itself is still relevant, at least more so than any other All-Star game.

I like live-blogging, so I'm doing this for the All-Star game today; the game doesn't really matter, regardless of what MLB wants you to think, but I'm blogging it anyways, mainly to make fun of Tim McCarver. Hope you stick around.

8:01: By the way, I'm doing this chronologically top-to-bottom; lots of people live-blog bottom-to-top, which I don't like because it makes it harder to read afterwards.

8:02: First of many Barry Bonds mentions, though it comes after our first Eric Byrnes mention (sitting in a kayak with his dog in McCovey Cove, working for Fox. He should be on the field, but whatever...)

8:03: My Prediction: AL wins, 8-3. As I mentioned yesterday, the AL's pitching is just ridiculous. Think about it - Haren goes two innings, then they can throw Beckett, Verlander, Sabathia, Santana, Putz, Papelbon, and K-Rod, and none of them have to go more than one inning. How can the NL score?

8:06: This game isn't even going to start until probably 8:30. Wouldn't it be so much better to play this game at 6:00 on a weekend? I understand that the owners probably don't want to give up their weekend games, but this is supposed to be the sport's showcase. As a kid, I could only watch one or two innings...I usually taped the rest, but it wasn't the same...

8:12: Can we get Homer Simpson to replace Tim McCarver as Fox's number one analyst? He's smarter, although I would probably laugh at him less...

8:14: Nate Silver's got a live chat going over at BP, and Deadspin's live-blogging this thing as well...mine will be better, though. I'll promise you that.

8:18: Do the managers usually bring all their coaches to the All-Star game? Because Jim Leyland brought like six Tigers coaches. Maybe this is normal; I honestly can't remember.

8:21: Never mind, La Russa's got his whole gang there too. Hey, how do you think Eric Byrnes feels hearing Orlando Hudson and Jose Valverde being introduced as All-Stars while he's sitting in his kayak?

8:22: Okay, here's the matchup I want to see: C.C. Sabathia pitching to Miguel Cabrera, sponsered by Krispy Kreme. And I want John Kruk announcing.

8:23: Holy crap, Chris Young is tall. Did you know he went to Princeton?

8:25: AL Lineup: Ichiro, Jeter, Papi, A-Rod, Vlad, Magglio, Pudge, Polanco, Haren. Can anyone tell me why there isn't always a DH in the All-Star game? Who the hell wants to see Dan Haren hitting here? He'll get pinch-hit for anyways, but still...

8:26: NL Lineup: Reyes, Bonds, Beltran, Griffey, Wright, Fielder, Martin, Utley, Peavy. La Russa's mismanagement of this roster continues...what the hell is Beltran doing hitting third? He shouldn't even be on the team. Fielder should be third or fourth, and Utley should be near the top of the order too...certainly not hitting eighth...

8:37: A tribute to Willy Mays. For some reason, I thought they were playing a baseball game today. Silly me. There's no way I'm making it to the end of this...

8:42: Apparently next year's All-Star Game is in Colorado. Bring your Kleenex...it's going to be a moving Dante Bichette tribute, everybody!

8:45: Tim McCarver's first sentence: "What a brilliant tribute for a guy who exhibited every facet of the game was superb." That's word-for-word, unless I didn't hear him right...

8:52: And finally, we're about ready to start. I'm like Roger Clemens at this point - you can't count on me to go more than six innings.

8:54: We're underway...Ichiro with a groundball single through the second-base hole.

8:57: Peavy's throwing his sinking fastball, reading in at 92-93...Jeter swung through one, then hit a routine two-hopper into a 6-4-3 double play. Yeah, he's clutch. Ichiro didn't even slide into second...shows you what this game means to these players...

8:58: Joe Buck just said that one of the reasons Ortiz isn't hitting well is that Manny isn't giving him "his usual protection" behind him. First off, Manny's been fine...and secondly, how would his not doing well hurt Ortiz? People still aren't pitching around Ortiz, and even i they id, that wouldn't really hurt his numbers...

8:59: We have an error on a first baseman on a fairly rouine play...but shockingly, it isn't Ortiz making the error. Ortiz hit one right at Utley, but Fielder missed the throw.

9:01: A-Rod hits one hard into the hole...Wright makes the diving play, in plenty of time to throw Ortiz out at second. Inning over. This is our country.

9:03: Simpsons 2, Mellencamp 1.

9:04: Reyes with a base hit up the middle. Was Polanco shifted to the hole, or does he not have that much range? That ball was 10 feet to the right of second-base...

9:05: Question of the day: Will Reyes steal, even though Bonds is hitting?

9:06: Question answered. Reyes swipes second, a few feet ahead of Pudge's throw...

9:07: Bonds pops out to right field...that ball carried, though. Looked like Polanco was gonna have it all the way, but Vlad had to take over.

9:08: Haren's at 93 mph, and he's all over the corners...until he leaves one right over the plate. Beltran lines a shot into the stands, but foul.

9:10: Beltran swings through a 1-2 heater...I think Haren threw six fastballs to Beltran. That can't be right.

9:12: Griffey with a two-hopper up the middle...25 of the 30 starting shortstops in baseball get to that ball, but Jeter doesn't. Reyes scores; 1-0 NL.

9:13: Wright hits one right at Jeter...at least he can get to that one. NL up 1-0 after the first.

9:16: Penny in for Peavy...gets up 0-2 on Vlad quickly. He throws Vlad a third straight fastball, but down and out of the zone; Vlad breaks his bat and grounds out to Reyes.

9:19: Magglio flys out to right, and Pudge grounds out to short...still 1-0 NL. Penny threw seven pitches that inning; I wonder if he'll be back out there for the third.

9:28: 2 out, runner on 1st, Miguel Cabrera pinch-hitting for Penny. Cabrera had better stay in the game, or else La Russa's got some 'splaining to do...

9:30: Cabrera whiffs, and it's still 1-0 after two.

9:33: Penny's out after a tiring seven-pitch outing, and Ben Sheets is in. Sheets was just 6-7 last year, and his ERA wasn't outstanding, but he had a ridiculous 116:11 K/BB ratio. Polanco grounds out to short to start the inning.

9:34: Manny pinch-hitting, flys out to Griffey in right. We haven't even seen a three-ball count yet...at least this game is going quickly...(actually, I think Peavy went 3-2 to Ortiz)

9:36: Ichiro swings at a pitch at his ankles and bloops it into left for a single. Bonds has no range, obviously, but nobody would have gotten to that.

9:37: Jeter grounds one up the middle, for another single. Ken Rosenthal reports Ichiro and the M's are close to a 5 yr/$90 million deal, if I heard him right.

9:38: Ortiz rips a Sheets fastball, but it's right at Griffey. Three outs.

9:42: Reyes puts some wicked sidespin on his hit...it gets by A-Rod, and Reyes ends up with a 170-foot double. Will he try to steal third, with Bonds up?

9:44: Bonds starts to square around to bunt on the first pitch...I'm assuming that was a joke. Later in the count, he gets one up in the zone and drives it to left...Ordonez grabs it on the warning track. So close. Kinda curious why Reyes didn't tag up there...

9:45: Beltran grounds out to second...I still don't understand why he was hitting third. Reyes could've scored there if he was on third.

9:46: Leyland says he'll use Putz as his closer if the AL takes a lead into the ninth. Putz is having a great year...but why don't you choose K-Rod? He's been great his entire career.

9:47: Beckett sends Griffey down swinging with a nice fastball at the knees. We're seeing lots of fastballs today, all in the 94-95 range, and not many hits. Still 1-0 NL.

9:50: Mellencamp pulls even with the Simpsons, 2-2. This is our country.

9:51: Soriano's in left; Bonds' day is done. Cole Hamels is pitching for the NL. A-Rod grounds a changeup through the hole for a single. Reyes steals secon, pretty easily...got a good jump on the lefty Hamels.

9:53: Vlad grounds to short. One out.

9:55: 2 outs...Pudge singles to right, but A-Rod is out by 15 feet at home. He wasn't running at all down the third-base line...I'm wondering if his hamstring is all right...

9:58: A-Rod's still at third, so I guess his leg's okay. Why the hell did La Russa bring in Cabrera just as a pinch-hitter? Is Wright going to play the whole game at third? Is he going to play Freddy Sanchez at third? Cabrera's one of the three best hitters in the league...why give him only one at-bat?

9:59: Beckett's still pitching...Wright works a 3-2 count, then grounds to Brian Roberts at second.

10:01: Beckett is working behind a little more than you'd like to...Fielder drills a 2-0 pitch to center, but Ichiro is there to make the play. Two away.

10:02: Didn't think we'd hear the s-word mentioned tonight, but Ken Rosenthal brings up the very valid point that 50-70% of baseball was using steroids, so we can't really criticize Bonds that much for using them. Buck then goes on a minute-long rant that the chemists are still ahead of the testers, so people are still cheating by using stuff like HGH. Meanwhile, Beckett goes to another three-ball count but strikes out Russell Martin, without so much as a mention from the announcers. We're already through four innings, and it's still 1-0.

10:07: Chris Young is pitching, and Derrek Lee is at first. Tim McCarver points out that Chris Young has a .82 ERA at home, but doesn't mention that PETCO is one of the two or three most pitcher-friendly parks. I mean, it's still impressive, but a lot of the viewers don't know their baseball stadiums very well...how about at least mentioning that it's helped him?

10:09: And we have our first walk of the day...Young walks Brian Roberts on six pitches.

10:10: Posada batting for Beckett...presumably he'll stay in to catch, as Pudge has already caught four innings. He flys out to center, one out.

10:11: Hey, we haven't seen Chris Byrnes in a while...he throws in a baseball for his dog to get, except the dog goes swimming away in the other directions. So that's what happened to the Great Outdoor Games!

10:12: Ichiro with a shot to the right field wall...boy, he's been hot. It takes a really weird bounce off the wall, and goes the opposite way of how it looked like it would...Ichiro circles the bases for an inside-the-parker, and Roberts scores as well. 2-1 AL, and if they win, Ichiro's easily the MVP.

10:14: Jeter flys out to center, and then Morneau lines out to Griffey. But the AL retakes the lead off Chris Young, and now they're in control.

10:18: Rich Garces C.C. Sabathia is pitching for the AL, and Carlos Guillen is in for Captain Intangibles at short. Utley grounds to second for the first out.

10:19: Soriano flys out to Crawford in left. Not to belabor this point...but how does the NL score the rest of the way? They'll face Sabathia, Santana, Papelbon, K-Rod, and Putz from here on out.

10:20: Reyes with a gapper to left-center...but Hunter makes a nice play to cut it off and hold him to a single. Lee grounds out to the pitcher to end the inning.

10:21: Two pieces of information from the interview with La Russa (I know, I couldn't believe we actually learned something either)...First, Cabrera's injury meant that he could only pinch-hit. Second, La Russa says he'll keep Pujols as a utility guy to bring in if the game goes to extras, because he can play anywhere. Now, Pujols is a great player, and I bet he could do all right for himself anywhere on the field. At the same time, he's pretty slow...do you really want him at second base? His glove would be okay, but he'd have no range. And, more importantly, Pujols is the best hitter in the game...don't you want to guarantee that he'll get at least one at-bat, preferably two? I really don't like the way La Russa managed this ame, from the beginning of the process on.

10:24: A-Rod flies out to left. The surprising Francisco Cordero is pitching...he leads the NL in saves.

10:25: Vlad flies out to right on a pitch at his ankles. I'm kinda surprised Griffey is still out there; he's getting up there in years and the NL has a bunch of outfielders.

10:28: Only about 43,000 people in the stadium...must be a small park.

10:29: We now have two homers so far in the game...and they've come courtesy of Ichiro and Carl Crawford. Ths pitch was a slider, a little below the belt, and Crawford got all of it, taking it out to right-center, about five rows up.

10:30: Guillen grounds out to Utley to end the inning. 3-1 AL.

10:33: Verlander in to pitch for the AL...I guess that means Papelbon won't pitch? Verlander goes 3-0 on Beltran, before giving up a triple on 3-1. Vlad kind of misplayed that...not easy to play right in this park, though. Griffey up, nobody out.

10:35: Griffey with a line drive to deep right...Vlad makes the catch, but even he can't throw out Beltran on that one. 3-2 AL, Griffey has both RBIs for the senior circuit and will likely be the MVP if the NL wins.

10:36: Velocity update: Verlander's last two pitches have been at 99, and he hits 100 on a fastball to Wright...he breaks his bat, but gets the ball into shallow center for a blop single. I'd guess that those readings are pretty legit; Verlander doesn't always throw this hard, but given that he's only going one inning, it would make sense he's giving it all he can.

10:37: Matt Holliday pinch-hitting, and I'd hope he stays in the game...he takes a real bad cut at a sick curveball, though, to make the count 0-2...

10:38: Holliday almost bites at two more curveballs, but checks his swing both times; the count goes to 3-2

10:39: Wright goes on the pitch, Holliday hits a one-hopper to first...Morneau knocks the ball down and gets the out at first. Two down, tying run on second.

10:40: Martin hits a shot to right, but it lands 10 feet foul. He follows it up with a popout to second; the AL dodges a bullet.

10:45: Takashi Saito on the mound, and a whole different team behind him...Hudson at second, Sanchez at third, Rowand in center, McCann catching, and Holliday moves to right.

10:46: Roberts hits a routine grounder to second, and there's one out. Jorge Posada next to bat...

10:48: Tim McCarver on Takashi Saito: "You look at the numbers on Saito, and one of the most important is his age...he's 37 years old. What a great story, to be waiting so long for this honor." (not quite verbatum, but close). Um...Saito just came to America last year, when he was signed by the Dodgers before the 2006 season. So, he's been waiting all of a year and a half. On a related note, here's a link you might want to check out...

10:50: Saito goes 1-2-3, and it's still 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh. NL will likely have to score at least one run off of Santana/K-Rod/Putz...

10:51: I don't want to make it seem like I'm unpatriotic or anything...but can we do away with singing God Bless America before the seventh inning stretch at every baseball game? I'm not sure I really have a problem with it in this situation, but is it really necessary to do every game?

10:53: Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd...

10:55: Thanks to Coors Light for exposing a major need in our daily lives - the mouths of our beer cans are too small. But it's okay now, Coors Light has wide-mouthed cans, so you'll never have this problem again!

10:56: On the mound: Johan Santana. Carlos Lee hits a couple shots, but they both hook foul.

10:57: Santana fans Lee with a dirty changeup at his shoelaces. One out.

10:58: Santana gets ahead of Soriano 0-2, then gets him looking with a change right down the middle.

10:59: Reyes hits a slow roller to short; inning over. He's still 3-for-4, though I'd be kinda pissed if I was J.J. Hardy about not getting into the game. 3-2 AL heading into the eighth.

11:02: Simpsons take a 3-2 lead; Mellencamp is running out of time to catch up.

11:03: Billy Wagner in for the Mets; Mike Lowell leads off with a single.

11:03: Best stat of the game so far: 0 appearances by Scooter the Baseball.

11:04: Sanchez has a little trouble fielding a popup (he's playing out of position at third; he's played second pretty much exclusively this year), but sticks with it and makes a nice play.

11:05: Sizemore strikes out swinging on a pitch that almost hits him; apparently, it's the NL's first strikeout of the game. Weird.

11:06: What's up with Billy Wagner? His fastball was just clocked at 95...and then he throws another 95-mph fastball, and Victor Martinez takes him deep down the left field line. 5-2 AL, and it's very tough to see the NL winning this game. Wagner's fastball is usually right around triple digits; I don't know what happened to his velocity.

11:09: After seven and a half innings, it's AL 5, NL 2. The senior circuit had better get at least one here if they want any chance. Papelbon's coming into the game, which I think is strange...Leyland said he's using Putz in the ninth, so this means K-Rod isn't getting into the game at all. K-Rod is the best reliever in the AL...I don't know why you wouldn't use him...

11:13: Paplebon gets ahead 0-2 on D-Lee, but leaves one right up the middle...Lee bloops it into shallow center and gets on base.

11:14: Uh...why exactly did Fox choose now as the time for a Chase Utley "Player Profile"? He left the game two innings ago. It's not like you didn't have time before...

11:15: You know it's late in the game when Buck and McCarver are talking about dancing. Or maybe I'm hallucinating. Papelbon fans Orlando Hudson with a splitter in the dirt, but Lee steals second easily.

11:18: Trevor Hoffman arming up for the NL...Paplebon goes to 3-2 on Rowand as Lee takes third on a passed ball.

11:20: Rowand fans on some high cheese. NL could really use a hit by Sanchez here.

11:21: Sanchez swings first-pitch...and flys out to center. That sound you just heard was the town of Pittsburgh not caring. 5-2 AL going into the ninth.

11:26: Again, Buck mentions the Padres' terrific pitching without mentioning the ballpark they play in. Look, they might have the best pitching in the game...but it's ridiculous to say that the ballpark has absolutely nothing to do with it. I haven't looked at many park-adjusted pitching stats lately, so I don't know if their pitching is the best or not.

11:27: Tim McCarver just cracked himself up while saying that the difference between Hoffman's fastball and changeup is great. I have no idea why.

11:28: Posada with a two-out double off the wall in dead center. Torii Hunter will try to make it a four-run game.

11:33: Hunter grounds out to third. Last chance for the NL; they need three runs.

11:35: If Pujols doesn't bat this inning for the NL, I want Tony La Russa fired immediately. I'm not even kidding.

11:36: Holliday leads off for the NL, against J.J. Putz. Putz is a fine choice to close this game - he's been the best reliever in baseball this season - but I would've liked to see K-Rod get into the game at some point...

11:37: Putz gets ahead of Holliday 0-2, then throws a ball low and away. Comes back with a 95-mph heater up and out of the zone, and Holliday bites. Two more outs to go.

11:38: Brian McCann up...he's not hitting well this year. Nothing La Russa can do about it, though, since he's the only catcher left for the NL.

11:39: Putz gets McCann 1-2, and then gets him to pop out to short. Two down.

11:40: The pitcher's spot is up, so Pujols should pinch-hit, right? Wrong. For some reason, Tony La Russa sends Dimitri Young up to the plate. Ugh. Young's career OBP: .349. Pujols' career OBP: .418. If you make an out here, the game's over...you absolutely have to have your best hitter up right now.

11:43: Putz hits 98 on the gun, but Young fouls it off, to stay alive at 1-2. Pujols should be batting...

11:44: The NL gets a break...a slow roller into the hole, and Brian Roberts can't hang on. Young reaches first, though that still doesn't validate La Russa's decision.

11:44: Alfonso Soriano batting...if he gets on, it's J.J. Hardy.

11:45: Putz gets into a hole against Soriano...count goes to 3-1. There's nothing Soriano can do here more valuable than walking.

11:46: That's okay, too...Sorano goes yard right down the right-field line. Again, it really didn't matter whether Soriano walked there or homered; Hardy still has to score for these runs to matter anyways.

11:47: I wonder if K-Rod's warming up...this is Hardy's first at-bat of the game. Derrek Lee is on deck.

11:48: Fastball, 96 mph, outer half, for strike one...but then Putz misses with a slider. 2-1. K-Rod is warming up, by the way, and Valverde's getting warm for the NL.

11:49: Fastball away...3-1. Putz doesn't want to give up another homer, but he can't put the tying run on base.

11:50: Ball low...Hardy gets on first. Leyland's making the change, as he's taking out Putz and bringing in K-Rod. I thought K-Rod should have started the inning in the first place. Hardy's got below-average speed, by the way.

11:52: Do you bring in Pujols for Lee here? On one hand, it's not a huge advantage, and it limits your flexibility if you go to extras...but on the other hand, you have to agree that Pujols is the better hitter.

11:53: D-Lee hits a hard grouder down the line, right to Lowell (guarding the lines), but foul. 1-1 count.

11:54: Dirty curveball on 1-1, but Lee checks his swing...nice block by Posada to keep Hardy at first.

11:55: Great curve on the inner half...2-2. I wouldn't be surprised if he throws another one of those here.

11:55: Sure enough...but Lee lays off it. Full count, this means Hardy's running on the pitch.

11:56: Lee checks his swing on a curveball...didn't go! Tying run on second, winning run at first.

11:57: Orlando Hudson is still hitting...WHERE THE HELL IS PUJOLS! Hudson's not a bad player, and Pujols would be out of position in extra innings...but it's Albert F---ing Pujols! If the NL loses this game, La Russa will share a very big portion of the blame.

11:57: Three terrible pitches by K-Rod and he's behind 3-0. Is Okajima warming up? Aaron Rowand is on deck...Pujols could hit for him, too, and then move to a corner outfield spot if the game goes to extras.

11:58: K-Rod finally throws a strike to get to 3-1, but then another ball in the dirt. Three straight walks...Leyland can't really make a change, though.

11:59: Nope, Rowand's hitting. If the Mets lose the World Series in seven games because they didn't get home field advantage, he should start mailing death threats to La Russa. I'm not even joking here.

12:00: K-Rod gets strike one over...Rowand hits the second pitch...and flies out to right. Game over, the AL holds on to win, but not by much. Managers always get too much blame whenever their team loses, but La Russa deserves a ton of blame for his refusal to bat Pujols in this one. I'm not sticking around for the MVP presentation, but I assume it will be Ichiro. Thanks to everyone (anyone?) who was reading; it was fun.

Buster, Buster, Buster...

Buster Olney is one of the better baseball writers at ESPN. His daily blog is a great read, he's as in touch with the people around baseball (for trade rumors and the like) as anybody, and I love listening to him when he's on the radio. So you can imagine my disappointment when I picked up the most recent issue of ESPN the Magazine the other day and saw this on the cover: "Buster Olney's All-Grinder Team". That's never a good sign. So, although I don't really like doing it, I have to make fun of Buster here and call him out for the lack of information here. Enjoy! (Make sure to check back in a bit for my All-Star Game live-blog!)

The article is called "Premium Grinders", and it picks out an "all-star" team of "grinders", one at each position in each league.

National League

C: Yadier Molina
More invested in his pitchers than in his batting average

That's a fancy way of saying he sucks at hitting. And I mean he really, really sucks at hitting. His career
OPS+ is 66. His OBP last year was .274. Molina's EqA last year was .205, and his hitting alone cost the Cardinals more than one win (-11 Batting Runs Above Replacement). He is a very good fielder, and because he is a catcher, he is still somewhat valuable. But Olney seems to be saying that Molina is more of a "grinder" because of his bad hitting.

1B: Todd Helton
Pitchers say he's the game's toughest two-strike hitter

Okay...but why do we have to take the word of pitchers? We have a little thing called statistics we can use to verify that. Helton's hitting .261 with two strikes this year. That's well above the major league average, which is .201. But I'd rather have someone like Placido Polanco, who is hitting .354 with two strikes. For his career, Helton has an OPS of .828 with two strikes. Albert Pujols (the first guy I looked up) has an .809 OPS with two strikes, in a much tougher hitter's park. Is Helton a great two-strike hitter? Sure. Should we just take the "pitchers" word that he's the toughest two-strike hitter? No.

2B: Chase Utley
Covered with infield dirt by the third inning every night

Here are the
first two in-game pictures returned by Google when you search "Chase Utley". There's a little dirt on him in the first picture, and none at all in the second picture. Maybe these were taken in the second inning. Obviously, Olney didn't mean this literally, but it's a very generic thing you can say about pretty much anybody.

SS: Jimmy Rollins
Loves the pressure of playing the villain on the road

Wait...you forgot...how can you...don't you know
David Eckstein plays shortstop in the National League? He legally changed his middle name last year to "Grinder"! He won't be happy to hear about this. While I appreciate the fact that Olney didn't go with everybody's favorite undersized shortstop and doesn't have just white players on the team (as most people tend to when talking about this kind of thing), this is another very generic thing that you could say about anybody. And Rollins' career OPS on the road is just .738.

3B: David Wright
Plays with a passion that's equal to his talent

Fortunately, he has talent, because otherwise he would suck. By the way, he's white and he's from New York. Funny how we never hear about Jose Bautista's passion...

OF: Aaron Rowand
Will sacrifice life, limb and even his face to make a catch

He's a grinder, because he runs into walls! That's how real men play baseball! Unlike that incredible pussy, Bo Jackson, who ran up the wall instead to avoid a collision, because he's not a grinder. By the way, does Rowand really run into walls all the time? Because it seems to me he's been living off that one play where he face-planted into the wall for a couple years now...it was a good catch, but come on, it was just one play. And Buster, Rowand will actually sacrifice his life to catch a baseball? That seems a little overboard, doesn't it? No? Okay, let's move on.

OF: Juan Pierre
Shows up six hours before game time to practice his bunting

That explains why that's his only skill! You know what would make him an even better player? If he would show up six hours before game time to practice his hitting! Because his OBP is just .311 right now, and his slugging percentage is a woeful .338, good for 168th out of 176 qualifiers. And Buster, does
this make him more of a grinder?

OF: Randy Winn
"No flash," says a GM. "The guy just goes after it."

Uh...can somebody please tell me what the hell this means? Carlos Beltran has so much flash that a guy once mistook him for a Kodak camera. Winn just "goes after it"? Can you name somebody who doesn't "go after it"? Who is this GM, anyways? Wait...don't tell me. It's
Steve Phillips, isn't it? That's gotta be Steve Phillips, right?

P: John Smoltz
Ultimate competitor when pitching, golfing, playing Ping-Pong...

From what I've heard about Smoltz, this is true, although most of what I've read about Smoltz was written by Olney himself. It seems to me that Olney has just taken the nine guys he's heard the best anecdotes about and labeled them "grinders".

So far, here are the criteria for being a "grinder", according to Olney:

Sucks at hitting
Pitchers say he's good with two strikes
Covered with infield dirt (as opposed to the other kinds of dirt one sees on a baseball field)
Loves playing on the road
Plays with "passion"
Will give up their life in order to catch a baseball
Practices bunting but sucks at hitting (again)
Plays ping-pong "competitively"

And we've still got the National League to go!

American League:

C: Jorge Posada/Jason Varitek
Like Munson/Fisk but without the ego and animosity

So, this means...what? They caught at the same time in the two biggest markets in baseball? They were good players? What does this mean, and how does it make them "grinders"?

1B: Kevin Youkilis
Triple-A talent, big league determination

There's a larger article that explains this more, and the gist of it is that Youkilis is a "grinder" for taking lots of pitches and walking a lot. So...plate discipline doesn't count as "talent"? Don't tell Barry Bonds this, he might get angry. Bonds walks more than Youkilis...why couldn't you call him a "grinder"? I'd say he has as much "determination" as Youkilis does...

2B: Placido Polanco
Does whatever's needed: relay throw, bunt, hit and run, two-out RBI.

Not many people remember this, but when he was back in Seattle, A-Rod would repeatedly not make relay throws. His outfielders would throw him the ball, and he'd just stand there with it, because he refused to make relay throws, because he's not a "grinder". Also, Polanco has just 14 two-out RBI this year...yes, RBI is a dumb stat, but Olney brought it up. Polanco has 154 total 2-out RBI in ten seasons in the big leagues.

SS: Derek Jeter
Grinds it out in the clutch: He's hitting .431 with RISP this year.

How surprising! Jeter, a grinder? Who would have guessed? By the way, do you know what Mr. Clutch hit with RISP in 2005? .261. In 2004: .281. For his career: .312 (his overall BA is .318). That's because clutch hitting is mostly based on luck, and not due to some innate ability or "grinderness" (look for that word in next year's Merriam-Webster).

3B: Eric Chavez
Embraces responsibility as one of team's only high-paid veterans

Uh...does that mean he's a grinder because gets paid a lot? It's A-Rod's lucky day! I don't really know why making more money gives Chavez more "responsibility", and I don't get why being responsible makes him a "grinder".

OF: Curtis Granderson
Ranks among league leaders in triples, hustle, and blogs

Otherwise known as the grinder's triple crown. Other guys have tied him in blogs (1), but nobody can match his 15 triples. And his Hustle Index of 113.7 is bested only by David Eckstein's 138.3; Derek Jeter is third with 104.9. And yes, I just made that stat up, to demonstrate how dumb it is to say he "ranks among the league leaders in hustle".

OF: Carl Crawford
Will get career hit No. 1,000 well before he turns 27 in August 2008.

And this makes him a "grinder"...how? Being a good hitter at a young age makes you a "grinder"? Hey, Albert Pujols, you're in luck!

OF: Grady Sizemore
Leaves more skin on warning tracks than any other outfielder

Actually, that's false; Aaron Rowand has him bested in Skin Left On Warning Tracks (SLOWT) with 36 square inches, but Sizemore is close with 32.5. Making up statistics is fun! By the way, all six outfielders Buster names are center fielders. Corner outfielders can't be "grinders"?

DH: David Ortiz
Nagging leg injuries haven't kept him out of the lineup

How can a DH be considered a "grinder"? All he has to do is go to bat four times. Come on, Buster, if you're going to make a completely meaningless and arbitrary list, at least have it make some sense...

P: Roy Halladay
Resumed workouts just days after having his appendix removed in May.

Jon Lester returned from cancer. That doesn't make him "grindery" enough for you? Other pitchers have battled injuries that actually, you know, have to do with pitching...stuff like elbow problems and stuff. I fail to see how Halladay is more of a "grinder" than any other pitcher.

So, to recap, Buster Olney's definition of a "grinder", in no particular order:

Sucks at hitting
Is good at hitting
Practices bunting but sucks at hitting
Walks a lot
Pitchers say he's good with two strikes
"Grinds it out in the clutch" by hitting exactly the same as always
Covered with infield dirt
Leads the league in hustle and blogs
Does whatever's needed
Leaves skin on the warning tracks
Loves playing on the road
Plays with "passion"
Willing to give up his life in order to catch a baseball
Makes lots of money and is "responsible"
Catcher in Boston or New York
Swings a bat four times a game while sort of injured
Comes back quickly from appendicitis
Plays ping-pong

So, by my count, everybody in the major leagues is a "grinder". Except maybe that lazy, selfish ungrindery Pat Burrell.

July 9, 2007

MLB Midseason, Part II: All-Star Game Preview

I've got no other way to do this, so let's break down the respective All-Star rosters, position-by-position. It doesn't matter a whole lot who the starters are, since they figure to play five, six innings tops, so we'll consider all the players at a certain position here. I'll be live-blogging the game tonight, not because it really matters but just because I feel like it. (By the way, BP Unfiltered has a nice HR Derby live-blog going on right now...)


AL: Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Victor Martinez
NL: Russell Martin, Brian McCann

The NL has the edge for the first couple innings, as Martin is in the midst of a breakout season while Pudge shouldn't even be in San Francisco. But the backup advantage is easily towards the AL, as Posada and V-Mart are having great years. Neither plays defense that well (especially Martinez), but it's not like people steal a whole lot of bases in the All-Star game anyways, especially in the later innings. Offensively, Posada and Martinez have been stellar this season.

Edge: AL

First Base:

AL: David Ortiz, Justin Morneau
NL: Prince Fielder, Derrek Lee, Albert Pujols, Dimitri Young

I'm surprised the AL went with just two first basemen; I would have liked to see someone like Kevin Youkilis get on the team. The main value of most of the NL first basemen will be as pinch hitters; remember, the pitchers will be batting because the game's in an NL park, and nobody wants to see the pitchers hit, so we'll see a lot of pinch-hitters. Ortiz at first will be very interesting to watch, defensively; he hasn't played there in a while because he isn't good at it, so we'll see if his defense causes problems for the AL team. All these guys are solid hitters.

Edge: NL

Second Base:

AL: Placido Polanco, Brian Roberts
NL: Chase Utley, Orlando Hudson, Freddy Sanchez

The NL gets the edge here just because of Utley, who is the only great second baseman in the game today. Roberts should be starting for the AL; Polanco can field well and hits for a high average, but those are his only skills. I really have absolutely no clue why the NL carried three second basemen and two shortstops; personally, I would have gone with four shortstops and Utley as the lone second baseman, and played someone like Edgar Renteria at second. Sanchez has no business whatsoever being on this team; there were two Pirate pitchers having much, much better years in Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny.

Edge: NL

Third Base:

AL: Alex Rodrigez, Mike Lowell
NL: David Wright, Miguel Cabrera

A-Rod and Cabrera are stars, and Wright and Lowell are definitely the lesser players. I'd take A-Rod over Cabrera, and I'd take Wright over Lowell, so this one's very even. Cabrera's a top-three hitter in the NL, by the way, although some people don't know it yet.


AL: Derek Jeter, Carlos Guillen, Michael Young
NL: Jose Reyes, J.J. Hardy

As I said earlier, it's just criminal that there are only two shortstops on the NL roster; Hanley Ramirez, Edgar Renteria, and Jimmy Rollins all have the right to be angry about this. The position in the NL is much deeper, but I actually think the edge goes to the AL here - both Jeter and Guillen are OPSing above .900. Young really doesn't add much to the team; he's probably an late-inning pinch-hitter for one of the pitchers.

Slight Edge: AL


AL: Vlad Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki, Magglio Ordonez, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rios, Grady Sizemore
NL: Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Matt Holliday, Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand, Alfonso Soriano

I would have rather seen Curtis Granderson on the team instead of Manny, but there's not a big difference there. The NL has a couple guys who don't belong - I could do without Beltran, Rowand, or Lee, and instead have someone like Eric Byrnes or Hunter Pence. There's talent on both sides, but I'm definitely taking the AL guys here...there are just so many great players in that outfield.

Edge: AL


AL: Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Bobby Jenks, John Lackey, Gil Meche, Jonathan Papelbon, J.J. Putz, Francisco Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Johan Santana, Justin Verlander, Hideki Okajima
NL: Jake Peavy, Francisco Cordero, Cole Hamels, Trevor Hoffman, Roy Oswalt, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, Ben Sheets, Jose Valverde, Billy Wagner, Brandon Webb, Chris Young

Well, the NL got Brian Fuentes off the team, but this staff still seems somewhat mediocre. John Maine is still off the team, and while they made the right decision in putting guys like Webb and Oswalt on the team (guys who have been great their entire career, even if they aren't putting up outstanding numbers this year), there are still a lot of hittable pitchers on that team, like Valverde and Saito. And this is the strength of the AL team...that is a murderer's row of pitchers. Imagine this...Haren goes two innings, then they can throw Beckett, Verlander, Sabathia, Santana, Putz, Papelbon, and K-Rod, and none of them have to go more than one inning. How do you score runs off that?

Big Edge: AL

Overall, I'm picking the AL to win, probably by a comfortable margin. Their offense is at least as good, and their pitching is a whole lot better. Predicting the outcome of one individual game is so luck-based that it is pretty much worthless, but I'll say the AL wins 8-3.

MLB Midseason, Part I: HR Derby Preview

Arguably the most interesting part of All-Star weekend to hardcore baseball fans is the futures game, featuring the best minor leaguers. I didn't get a chance to watch it, because I had a game yesterday evening, but Justin Upton (D-Backs CF prospect, brother of B.J. Upton) was the biggest star, showing why he's absolutely ready for the Show. Here's a link to Nate Silver's live-blog of the game.

Anyways, tonight is the Home Run Derby, which may be the most popular part of the All-Star weekend. Of course, trying to predict what will happen in the Derby is impossible and completely based on luck, but I'll try to do it anyways. But first, a quick tangent explaining the so-called HR Derby curse...

Bobby Abreu won the Derby in 2005, hitting an amazing 41 taters for the contest. Before the Derby, Abreu had hit 18 home runs. After the Derby, Abreu managed just six more homers for the year. Some people pointed to this as evidence that Abreu "messed up his swing" in the Derby, or that participating was a bad thing for Abreu. Some other previous winners had seen their production drop off also, so people began to think that it was bad for people to be in the Derby. Ryan Howard hit 30 homers in the second half last year, but that was labeled an "exception". I know of Yankee fans that were glad that A-Rod declined to take part in the Derby, because they feared he might mess up his swing also.

So, is this Derby curse real? In a word, no. I will explain this through a simple example:

Player A, Player B, and Player C are all "true" 30-HR hitters; that is, they will all hit exactly 30 homeruns every year. (Obviously, this is impossible in real life, but this is just a hypothetical example.) In one particular year, here's how they hit their homers:

Player A hits 23 homers in the first half of the season, and hits just 7 in the second half.

Player B hits 15 homers in the first half and 15 in the second half.

Player C hits just 7 homers in the first half, but 23 after.

Guess which one gets invited to the Homerun Derby? Only player A would be there, because he has 23 homeruns. So he hits only 7 homers after, and people say it's because the Derby messed up his swing, when it actually is just that he was doing what he was supposed to do.

To summarize, almost all the people selected to participate in the Derby are hitting more homers than they were expected to, so it makes sense that they'd hit less after the break. It doesn't go beyond that.

Okay, then...now, who will win the Derby tonight? The contestants are: Vlad Guerrero, Justin Morneau, Magglio Ordonez, and Alex Rios from the AL, and Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, and the newly added Matt Holliday (subbed for the injured Miguel Cabrera) from the NL.

First of all, in my opinion, you have to pick a righty. It is only 309 feet down the right-field line, but right-center is as deep as 421 feet, and that wall is really high...home runs will just die out there. The lefties certainly add to the drama, as they are the ones who will be hitting balls into the water, but I think the righties are much more likely to win. If you really want to pick a lefty, you may want to go with a guy like Morneau, who hits a lot of homers to the opposite field. So, first of all, Morneau, Howard, and Fielder are eliminated.

After that, there's no real key to picking things. There's a trend that I identified last year, and that is that underrated players tend to win the Derby. In 2003, Garrett Anderson was underrated (that was back when he was actually good), and he won the thing. In 2004, Miguel Tejada was still somewhat underrated (not really anymore), and he won. And in 2005, Abreu was very underrated, although obviously getting traded to New York last year helped him get more than his due. Last year, Howard didn't really fit the bill; he wasn't thought of as a superstar, but he did win the ROY in 2005.

So, of the five righties, who is the most underrated? Pujols and Vlad have been superstars for years; it would be ridiculous to say he's underrated. Magglio is getting some love this year, and he really hasn't been that good the last couple years. Alex Rios is a little underrated, but he's also not that good. The obvious choice here is Matt Holliday - the average baseball fan may know his name, but probably doesn't know who he is. Holliday is much more of a batting-average-type hitter than a homerun hitter, but I'm still picking him. My next choice is Vlad, by the way.

I'll have an All-Star game preview up later today, if I can.